Monday, November 2, 2015

Whole New Way of Aerial Combat Pt. 2

So before I get started, we need to look at exactly what the current big threat is...
 Flights of bombers hauling tons of cruise missiles.
The old Cold War Bears hauled one big ASM called the Kitchen. One very big and bad missile. Those days are gone, now. In the pic above, you can see that Tu-95s (whatever version they're up to now) can carry no less than 8 cruise missiles. And we don't even know what's in the internal bay. So, waves of Tu-95s releasing waves of missiles. They (cruise missiles ) were designed solely for for one thing. Run fast and stealthily to things and make them go away in a big puff of smoke, noise and sadness.

The new air-to-air Amraams, the AIM-120D, was designed to kill small, stealthy cruise missiles (and stealth fighters by the way. Ahem). But you can only hang so many missiles on a fighter before it can't take off, go fast or maneuver. And the modern bombers and some cruise missiles can be pretty squirrelly in transit. Which direction are they coming from? Which are decoys? High or low? And then there's ICBMs- a very real threat now that North Korea has rattled that saber, demonstrating the ability to hit the continental US with nuclear ICBMs. These things come screaming down from the sky, near vertical trajectories, and they're very, very fast. And what's our defense? There are basically two weapons- ANG Eagles loaded with Amraam-Ds, and Navy cruisers/destroyers with SM-3s. Both are great. But they also share limited range, limited payload, and would need to be in exactly the right spot at the right time... and need 100% hit rate. Aaaaand that's pretty impossible. It's appeared impossible to the Pentagon's top brass for years, too. And here's what they've been working on for the fix... Lasers. 
Light Amplified through the 
Stimulated Emission of Radiation.
AW&ST Feb 16, 2015: A defense contractor called General Atomics has been working on a full size UAV whose sole payload is a 9,000 canoe shaped 150kW laser pod. Testing is already underway, and has been highly positive. And by testing I mean a prototype on a mountain top shooting down drones and blasting ground targets dozens of miles away. It fires a 3-second burst, which takes out the nose cone of approaching missiles or fighter (which ruins their primary sensor and renders them unflyable) then shifts to the next target in 1-3 seconds, and fires again. The current unit can fire 10 times, then takes 3 minutes to recharge. And said recharge comes from the power of the jet itself. The problem with it is that while that testing has been going on, the GA labs have developed a smaller 3,000 lbs unit that has the same range and power output. Not tested in the world, but functioning perfectly fine in the lab.

But that one's not going into a UAV. You know where it's going? Well, what other aircraft is there that has canoe shaped "pods" that can hold 3,000 lbs and fight?

The FAST Packs/CFTs of an F-15 can hold up to 9,000 pounds of fuel, but a 
3,000 pound payload makes it lighter, faster and more maneuverable.
These lasers won't be on big, slow airliners- they'll be on fighters. Mach two, 9g turnin' n burnin', afterburnin', laser-blasting fighter planes. It's all part of a program the Pentagon is calling Eagle 2040.

That's right. As in F-15 Eagle.

I was at a certain Air National Guard base a couple years ago talking to some crew chiefs. And believe me, sometimes, they're more fun than the pilots are (I said sometimes, not always). When out of nowhere, the one guy said, "Well, our F-15s are going to be getting conformal tanks in a few years. It's already paid for, they just have to make `em." Conformal fuel tanks? On ANG fighters? I know, it didn't make any sense! But now, that we can see that said tanks won't be holding fuel, but lasers, it makes perfect sense.
Now, Air Force Special Operations Command said, "Hey! We want those on our C-130s! We could just sit up there and zap away at bad guys as long as we have fuel, and still take out any missiles they shoot at us!" But a ranking officer said, "No, not until we get them installed on our fighters." 

Another officer in charge of weapons development, and I'm sorry I lost the link but I'm looking for it, said he wanted two, not just one, but two of these installed on F-15 Eagles. That's one per CFT. So now, instead of engaging 4 or six fighters 10-20 miles away with AMRAAMs, and hoping you got them all before the merge, a single F-15 Eagle will be able to shoot down -I'm talking instantly confirmed kills- 20 bandits, in two minutes. And at ranges much greater than 20 miles... 

"Zap- Splash one". 

"Zap- Splash two". 

"Zap- Splash 3". 

And so on... 

...up to twenty. 

Yeah, "Zap- Splash Twenty." 

Twenty kills in a single sortie.

"Lead, I gotta turn cold and recharge," 

"Roger. I'm hot now so I'm re-engaging."

Imagine what a flight of four can do. 

Or a squadron.

And for tactics sake, AMRAAMs- I don't know if you're needed anymore. AIM-9Xs still are in case there's an exorbitant number of bad guys.I mean, I assume these lasers aren't that flexible in a dogfight. But -holy crap- watch out if they are. When they are, I mean. I assume guns will be retained, but maybe not. The engineering to balance the plane might be deemed too expensive (just throwing in a big lead weight is not that simple, actually, when you're working off the X or Y axis of a high performance airplane).

And you know what else that 3,000 lbs, canoe will fit into? Yep- the belly bay of an F-22 or F-35. Doesn't really matter how many missiles you can carry now, does it? Or if you can do a sustained 9g turn (which I'm still convinced the F-35 will be able to do once the FBW software gets it kinks debugged)?

And honestly, I've been looking at these "conformal" tanks they've been putting on F-18s and F-16s and saying, really? But now, it makes sense.

And remember how the Viper pilot said he shot down a drone BEHIND him with a data-linked AIM-9X?

I know it sounds crazy, but this stuff is developed and in testing. The theoretical bounds have been met or surpassed. Fellow jet heads, we are going into a completely new era now. Military aviation, in 20 years, is going to be a completely different ball game.

Now how long until our virtual "enemies" concoct their own lasers, or countermeasures? 

Some say Russia already has...

Aviation Week and Space Technology has been my primary source of information, as they tend to be ahead of everybody else anyway. See: AW&ST Feb 16, 2015, AW&ST Aug 17-30, 2015, AW&ST Sep 28-Oct 11, 2015

More sources to come as I dig them up

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